Young people today want to be better understood. Of course, this feeling is not limited to the young; the same strong desire is found in the heart of almost every human being. And yet despite that heartfelt wish, young people are unwilling to disclose their true selves. Herein lies a great contradiction. Because they are not honest with themselves, they are not understood, and their own radiance does not shine forth.
People often wonder why I am always smiling, and they ask me, "Is there some secret to it?" I usually reply, "No, there's no secret. It's just that I always try to be myself. That's probably the reason why I always smile."
People often try to make themselves look better than they really are, and by doing so they often make it hard on themselves. It is as if they are always standing on tiptoe. Though it is more than enough just to plant both feet firmly on the ground, if one stretches and stands on the toes, the feet will start to hurt, one totters, and one has to endure it all, so naturally it becomes a torment. Of course, there are occasions when one needs to look one's best. However, the effort of always trying to overreach oneself makes one feel awkward and irritable. When one feels this way, simply telling oneself, "I am what I am," and just being oneself produces relaxation and ease.
Thanks to this practice, I have been able to spend my days with this sort of serenity. As I look back, I see that I have always been myself and showed my feelings. To be sure, I have also run into difficulties. There were some tough times, like the seven years I was constantly pawning my formal kimono, redeeming it only to pawn it again. Yet even then I was wearing a smile, and for as long as I can remember, people have been commenting about this habit. When I reflect on why I have been able to let people see just who I am, I can only conclude that it has been because I believe that if only I entrust myself to the Buddha, everything will turn out all right.
The strain of overreaching oneself not only is psychological, but also has economic manifestations in daily life. For example, it would seem that many Japanese these days feel no great hesitation about borrowing money. On the contrary, to investors it appears entirely reasonable to borrow capital at low interest to buy land or shares or make other investments. Even individuals, instead of paying off the home loans they already have, borrow more money, often through the use of credit cards, to buy cars or furniture or to pay for travel.
Is there not a pitfall in feeling that borrowing money is a natural, even positive, sort of behavior? Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835 - 1901), the noted writer and educator, and the founder of Keio University in Tokyo, writes in his autobiography, "On the whole, aside from assassination, there is nothing in this world as frightening to me as borrowing money." According to Fukuzawa's rationale, if one borrows money, it is only right to return it, so if it is an amount one can return anyway, one should make up one's mind not to borrow, but to save until one has the sum in hand. Fukuzawa writes that he never borrowed money, even small amounts. He goes on to say, "In short, I am extremely timid when it comes to going into debt; I have not the least bit of courage. To have borrowed money and then have to worry about not being able to repay it on demand seems to me like being pursued by someone with a drawn sword." If people today were as fearful of debt as Fukuzawa, there would certainly be no suffering from onerous repayment of bank loans or overused credit cards.
In Japan there is a saying, "One cannot live seventy days, but one can live seventy years." If one makes a serious mistake on the job, risks bankruptcy, or is burdened by a loan that is unpayable, one may feel unable to go on living. But the feeling lasts at most seventy days, and before one knows it, one somehow recovers. Before long, another crisis arises, and though one once again sinks into despair, it too eventually passes. Before one notices it, one has attained the age of seventy. Life goes on.
I believe that one feeling in particular is crucial for going through life easily. This is the feeling that if one lives with the spirit of the Buddha, there can be no greater happiness. The ultimate will of the Buddha is the desire for every person, every being, just to be true to themselves. A line from the Noh chant Basho expresses it in this way:
As in the parable of the herbs,
Even grass, trees, and earth,
Sentient and nonsentient -
Every one of these is of
The "reality of all existence."
The tempest at the summit
And the sound of water in the valley
Do the Buddha's work.
The terminology here may be slightly unfamiliar, so allow me to explain. "The Parable of the Herbs" is the title of chapter 5 of the Lotus Sutra. "Sentient" refers to things that have a soul, and "nonsentient" refers to things that are not believed to have a soul. "The reality of all existence" means the true nature of all things, exactly as they are. In other words, the sounds of both the tempest on the mountaintop and the water of the stream flowing through the valley express the spirit of the Buddha. Because of the universal presence of the buddha-nature, insentient things like grass, trees, and earth, as well as sentient beings, can attain buddhahood. The Buddha's spirit exists in grass and trees, mountains and rivers, all things in the world harmonizing just as they are.
Let us fling away this desire to make ourselves seem better than we really are, and let us manifest the buddha-nature by just being the way we are and by living in accordance with our true nature. We must simply recall that human beings do not live in the buddha-nature all alone. Thus, we hope that those around us will come to live in the same way, and we should begin to work toward that end. This is one respect, in contrast to the tempest on the mountaintop and the stream in the valley, in which we can express the Buddha's spirit.
I have always made an effort to live in the spirit of the Buddha. I believe that is why I am always at ease and why I am always smiling.
Opening yourself to others just as you are is the most carefree way to live.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.